Be Your Own Teacher

A good teacher will help you take your music to the next level. If possible, find someone you like and respect who will teach you the music you want to learn.

But perhaps there is absolutely no one around who can teach you. You’re in luck! there’s this thing you might have heard of called Youtube…

But you’ll need more than Youtube. You will have to be your own teacher. Otherwise, you’ll wind up treading water, chasing after one interesting thing and then another, never really getting much better.

There are a few pitfalls to learning an instrument on your own:

  • Most students learn too many tunes too quickly without really learning them well.
  • Most beginner students don’t play slow enough.
  • Without feedback from a teacher, a beginning student runs the risk of developing poor form and technique, and not developing good practice habits.
So you will need to find a way to get feedback, and you’ll need to learn how to pace yourself. Here are some suggestions on how to be your own teacher.

STAY WITH ONE THING

Don’t learn more than one new tune a week. If you get bored, try to play the same tune on a different string or in a different scale. Try it at different speeds, different volumes. This is creative practice.

SLOW DOWN

Probably the biggest mistake beginners make is to play too fast. Once you can make it through something at a medium speed, try it slower. Your brain learns more quickly then your hands. It wants to move on to the next thing. But the hands need slow, repetitive practice to learn things.

MIRROR, MIRROR

Play in front of a mirror. Notice your form. Compare with photos of players with correct form. This will bring awareness to the physical aspect of what you are doing.

RECORD YOURSELF

Record audio and perhaps even video of yourself playing.

Pay attention to where you make the same mistakes. Then pause the recording and try to work on that trouble spot. Make up exercises to help you practice the difficult parts.

If you are video recording yourself, pay attention to your form. Notice how it is different from pictures and videos you find online. Try to correct it. using a mirror for this will help.

After recording, listening and watching, try to play the piece again. Repeat the process.
Read: How to improve your fiddling through recording


ORGANIZE

Get a blank notebook and use this to organize your music practice.
Make a weekly plan for what you want to learn.
Every time you practice, record what you did. Include comments on how it went, questions, the speed you played pieces at, connections you made, etc.
I tend to keep it brief:
February 6-13
  • Irish tunes, new:
    • Belfast hornpipe
    • Kilmaley reel
  • Kafi raga
    • Hariprasad phrases
  • GDGD tuning
    • scales
    • improv
  • Review:
    • miss monaghan
    • silver spear
Start a list of tunes you know and a list of tunes you want to learn. Also do this for techniques. If you are ambitious, you can even set a date that you want to have learned a particular tune or technique. Perhaps this list can be at the from or the back of your practice notebook.

REVIEW

Periodically take time to review older tunes, especially the ones you like. Do you remember them? Do they sound different now? Also review techniques you’ve studied.

Learn more about how make reviewing tunes and techniques fun:

How To Practice Review Sets

How To Remember Lots Of Fiddle Tunes


LOOPING

Looping is a powerful technique to practice small phrases that are difficult or key parts to the tune. Once you can play the part, loop on it continuously until it sounds good. Loop on the part that comes after that, then put both together to make a bigger loop. If you get stuck, go back to a smaller loop.

For every tune or piece you learn, warm up with it’s related scale. Take breaks from working on the tune to practice the scale. Try to make scales fun by adding rhythms,  patterns and dynamics (how loud or soft you play).  Learn How To Make Scales Fun.


TONE

Once you can make it through a tune, try to focus on making it sound better. It’s like learning the song all over again. Start with the first note of the song. Make that sound as good as possible. Then the same with the second note. Then do it with the first two notes together. Keep working in this way until you have the whole first quarter (or first line) of a tune sounding nicer. Work through the tune in this way. Learn more about How To Improve Your Sound.


The most important thing to remember: PLAY EVERY DAY. I say it over and over, but can’t say it enough. This is what any decent teacher wants you to do. If you manage to have regular practice, you’ll start to figure out how to practice better. You may come up with something that I haven’t thought of. If so, let me know. I’m learning too.

13 responses to “Be Your Own Teacher

  1. Hello…pick me! I’ve been guilty of over eagerly learning too many songs far too quickly and not concentrating on learning to play any one of them well. I gobble it all up without savoring the music because I want to be a pretty darned good fiddler…like yesterday! Happy to say that I have mellowed out since starting your course. Thank-you for that. 🙂

    I’ve recorded myself singing, in the past, and that was surprisingly helpful. I struggle with accepting, and believing any compliments on my voice because of how I sound to myself in my own head and with being my own worst critique. So I have an idea recording is going to do my playing wonders. The only promising sign I’ve had so far is that the cat doesn’t leave the room anymore when I play. 🙂
    Thanks for the most helpful blog post!

  2. Hello !
    in fact I realized I’ve been like Maureen,I always wanted to learn more and more tunes …without never play one very well !
    The other problem for me is to play when people are looking at me…It gives me a lot of stress and I’m starting to play not well and as I hear it’s not good,it stresses me even more it’s without solution…Even to play in front of a mirror and to look at me gives me stress ! It’s horrible,may be I’ve to meet a psychologist !!!

    Ps and for the moment my cats continue to leave the room when I’m playing !

    1. Karine,
      I got over my “stage fright” quickly after some friends asked me to get together weekly with them to play music. I am not even a very good keyboard player, but I am now a better, and a much more confident player because of that. I was a bundle of nerves in the beginning, but gradually that feeling went away and now it is all fun!
      And now with learning the fiddle, and being a beginner, I take my fiddle everywhere I go & I practice using a fiddle mute while sitting around with family and friends. I am not playing for them. I am simply practising scales, looping,intervals, fingering, etc. fiddling my heart out in the background while hanging out with other people. It is very comfortable and this way I’ll be playing songs for them soon and they won’t even know it! 😀
      If you are nervous even playing in front the mirror, then keep practising in front of the mirror every day until your nervousness goes away….because it will.
      It is the same as your fiddle practice. You need repetition to be better.
      Have fun with it and enjoy yourself!

  3. About that “practice every day” thing….not a problem. I’ve had my fiddle for two months now and have not yet missed a day of practice. Sometimes I play twice a day. OK, I confess, sometimes three times a day… If this keeps up, I may need to find a good 12 step program….fiddler’s anonymous? 😉😆
    Thanks for the great website and lessons!

Leave a Reply